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By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL
hard truth is, bad meetings almost always lead to bad decisions, which is the
best recipe for mediocrity.” Patrick Lencioni, from his book. Death
During my 30-year corporate
career, I often led meetings, reviews, strategy sessions, team meetings, etc.
In the rather undisciplined work culture I came from, conducting any meetings was
often a major challenge. People regularly
committed the “seven deadly sins” of meetings, (Entrepreneur)*, but I
worked very hard to avoid those “sins” as much as possible. I likened
conducting a meeting at that company to herding cats. If you have seen that hilarious “Herding Cats”
video, you’ll get the picture. I’ve included the link below.
To set the right tone, I always
insisted on the appropriate meeting venue, and my area had all the right types
of space for this purpose. I usually had to convince one of the major
players to hold his/her meeting there , rather than in some dreary,
stuffy conference room in the main building (where the lights would go off randomly, leaving us in total darkness). I learned
through the properly organizing meeting and teamwork areas, that a venue can make
a big difference in the success of the meeting and the attitude of people
attending. The area I created and controlled offered every possible
convenience: comfortable seating, all the network and wireless requirements,
video conferencing, white boards, smart boards, and my staff took care of every
other administrative need. Of course, I always made sure there were plenty of refreshments
available to keep people motivated to stay. A published agenda with roles and
responsibilities clearly defined was provided at every meeting. I asked people
in advance NOT to use their phones , laptops, etc. during the time we were
But no matter how hard I tried;
some people still exhibited bad meeting behavior: In fact, one person
carried on an entire phone conversation in the middle of making his own point! (I
later discovered that he did the same thing in his own staff meetings.) Others
would have their laptops open typing away, probably sending nasty grams about
the progress of the group. At various stages during the meeting, I would
politely ask that electronic devices be turned off out of courtesy to others,
but my request usually fell on deaf ears. However, as unruly as these
characters were, the venue I provided, with all the services included and a
structured approach, contributed to more productive meetings than I have
witnessed elsewhere in the company. I insisted on an agenda, in briefing and
out briefing packages, so people were forced into being industrious, as these, and whatever other artifacts were produced,
had to be completed before the meeting adjourned. No one could leave my
meetings without making a specific contribution.
found that “Bad meetings are a source of negative messages about your
company and yourselves”. This quote struck home, having felt responsible
for “cat herding” for so many years.
Once I changed
jobs within the company and no longer controlled the meeting atmosphere, I found
myself really feeling the Death by Meeting scenario. The staff meetings I attended
seemed almost pointless. No major decisions were ever made in these meetings.
No one made any commitments. People appeared almost anesthetized as they slumped
around the table. There was not a lot of energy in the room. Often the agendas
had not been updated from the previous week’s meeting. And people often had
hidden agendas, and I could tell, there was some fudging going on. And the
cryptic language used around the table indicated that if you were not an
insider, you’d never know what the others were talking about. And, human needs like food or drink were
Moreover, many department staff
meetings were deadline driven. We slid right over issues discussed at higher
levels like company values, leader action plans, culture issues, diversity,
safety, etc., and instead, dwelt on those deadlines that directly affect the
supervisor, like deadlines for performance appraisals, deadlines for training,
deadlines for expense reports. And no refreshments
here either, so of course, people couldn’t wait to escape.
I almost laughed
out loud when I read the suggestions for the “Four Meetings” in the excerpt
from Death by Meeting. (These include the Daily Check-in, the Weekly Tactical,
the Monthly Strategic and the Quarterly Off-site Review.) I can’t imagine
those meetings ever taking place at any level lower than Vice President in that
company. At the President and Vice President level, these types of meetings were
far more plausible; in fact, it was one of these Senior Leadership strategy
meetings that my supervisor glossed over in one staff meeting. The whole idea
is that the Senior Leaders were supposed to “flow down” the results of their
strategy meetings to the lower levels, and then, the informed employees were
supposed get excited about their plans and start implementing them right away.
However, when the middle managers were not spending time explaining the
messages or were not held accountable for making them happen, the average
employee, “Marty Meets” was not ever going to get the message. And this left the
Senior Leaders wondering why the communication stream was not working. Poor
communication from middle managers was what drove “Marty Meets” to email
company executives their complaints, and then the comfort level between
employees and the middle managers began
to shift in the wrong direction.
* Deadly Sins of Business Meetings, Meetings that become useless rituals… Meetings that are a one-way conversation…. Meetings with lax leadership… Meetings that harp on setbacks instead of strategies… Meetings that disrupt the most productive hours…. Meetings that are held in a bland environment…. Meetings that are too formal and rigid. Entrepreneur, 2012
Connect with Mary:
T. O’Sullivan, MSOL, ICF-PCC, SHRM-SCP
O’Sullivan has over 30 years of experience in the aerospace and defense
industry. In each of her roles she acted as a change agent, moving teams and
individuals from status quo to higher levels of performance, through offering
solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth.
a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Quinnipiac University. In
addition, she is also an International Coaching Federation Professional
Certified Coach, a Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified
Professional and has a Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional
Coaching, from the University of Texas at Dallas.
In her leadership and executive coaching, she
focuses on improving the executive behaviors that slow down performance and
lead to growth, such as soft skills, communication, micro-bias awareness, etc.
She has successfully helped other professionals, such as attorneys, surgeons,
pharmacists, and university professors, make career decisions to lead to
success in their chosen careers. In
addition, small business owners have sought Mary’s services to bring their
companies into greater alignment, working on their culture, vision, mission,
values and goals as well as organizational structure. Mary’s executive coaching
has been mainly with large organizations
among them: Toray Plastics America, Hasbro, Raytheon Company, Lockheed Martin,
CVS Healthcare, Sensata Technologies, Citizen’s Bank, Ameriprise, BD Medical
Devices, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, (Newport, R.I.), General Dynamics,
University of Rhode Island, Community College of Rhode Island, etc.
Mary has facilitated numerous workshops on
various topics in leadership such as, emotional intelligence, appreciative
inquiry, effective communication, leading in adversity, etc. She has also
written extensively on similar topics.
also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and
holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from the Society
of Human Resources Development. Mary is also an ICF certified Appreciative
Inquiry Practitioner, and a Certified Emotional Intelligence assessor and
addition, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York
for secondary education with Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair
University, State University of New York at Oswego and Syracuse University. She is also a member Beta Gamma Sigma
and the International Honor Society.
dedicates herself to coaching good leaders to get even better through positive
approaches to behavior change for performance improvement.